(Y2010M! stands for Your 2010 Mariners! and is a series of posts aiming to touch on every player possibly important to the Mariners’ season.)
From the shores of the Pacific Islands to the Mongolian Grill in Woodinville, the name Tuiasosopo rings with peals of grandeur. Any occasional local football fan knows that dad Manu played for the Seahawks, and first son Marques (maybe my favorite Husky of all time) is near the top of a long list of excellent Husky quarterbacks. Some of his feats of greatness: Rose Bowl win, the first 300 passing 200 yard rushing game in history, and beating Miami in one of the most exciting games I’ve seen at Husky stadium. Middle son Zach was a solid Husky fullback and linebacker, and cousin Trenton a serviceable linebacker who just graduated. The sister (Lesley?) even starred for the volleyball team, if I remember correctly.
Matt was reputedly the most talented of them all, a big quarterback with a bigger arm and lots of athleticism. The Mariners drafted him anyway in the third round of the 2004 draft, gave him first round money, and he said baseball was his first love and signed. (Last Husky QB recruit stolen by baseball: Grady Sizemore.) Drafted as a shortstop, Tui made some noise early. I remember a moderately delusional KJR host suggesting the M’s should call him up that first year to see what he had, which shows both how bad the Mariners were and how big of a name Tuiasosopo is around these parts.
Thus far, I guess you could say Matt hasn’t panned out quite like was hoped for. He was switched to 3B and promoted aggressively, usually failing at first before coming back the next year to put up solid if usually unspectacular numbers. His defense, like many minor leaguers, drew mixed reviews. Some thought he might stick at third, others thought right field would be good given his big arm, no one thought he could play shortstop again. Tui broke camp with the 2009 big league team while Ichiro fought his ulcer and was okay in a handful of games, then was injured shortly after being sent down, not quite ending his season, but close enough.
This spring, Matt’s pounding the ball and playing some again at SS. Reports are he’s playing it decently well. It’s hard to know what the team’s thinking about Tui at this point. The SS play and other comments about increasing his versatility might just be to find a utility man who can hit for this year, and also because the Mariners really like versatile players. But maybe there’s more going on. I think Tui could put up similar batting lines to Beltre: something like a .270 BA and .750-850 OPS, depending on the year. He also has that potential for a huge season like Beltre had. Probably not 48 homers huge, but maybe 35 if he figures out how to use his size for some power, with an average above .300. He has the potential to develop into a big stick, at least in my mind. What if the Mariners think he might stick at shortstop? It’s doubtful he can do it, but second and third are looking pretty full for the next few years, while SS is not. Maybe this is a shot at a replacement for Jack Wilson who can hit.
The majority of prospects of Tui’s current billing don’t become impact players in the bigs. There’s no guarantee Tui will be any different. He does have a few things going for him. He’s still young, starting the season as a 23-year-old, and more importantly, he came in pretty raw, at least in part because of his time as a big time high school quarterback. He’s improved nearly every year even with the aggressive promotion schedule. He plays multiple positions. Maybe it’s just because of his name, but I still have high hopes.